Eugene Hughes, 79, born and raised in D.C.’s Capitol Hill community, recalls the days when he emerged as one of the nation’s best featherweight boxers.
Toward the end of his career, which spanned from 1950 to 1965, he moved to California and joined the Black Panthers. He also did a stint in prison there for his involvement in the 1965 Watts Riots.
Hughes returned to the District in the 70s, starting the Midtown Youth Academy in Northwest – providing youth with a safe haven, academic tutoring and computer skills from college student volunteers.
Now, Hughes lives alone not far from the Academy that’s temporarily closed until it undergoes sorely needed restoration. In a few weeks he may be forced to move, no longer able to afford his rent in an area where rental costs have soared amidst the throes of gentrification.
And with declining health and limited mobility, Hughes, now well-chair bound, will need assistance both with his move and with his daily activities. For the past two years, Gloria Lee, 64, has been his primary caregiver.
But she too has physical challenges.
Nearly, three years ago, the D.C. native retired from her security job and moved in with her daughter in Clinton, Md. But connections from the past have led her back to the District and to assist Hughes.
Lee’s grandchildren once attended the Academy and they’ve been friends for over 15 years.
“I want to make sure I’m taking the right steps,” she said, noting that she lacks the resources to help make decisions about Hughes’ future care.
“When you see a person in need and you step in, you don’t realize how much you’re signing up for,” she said. “Sometimes I really need support too.”
She added that she’s concerned about Hughes’ long-term care and that his scope of care exceeds her abilities. So, she’s joined a support group, Caregivers4Caregivers, started by Patricia Onakoya, 67.
Onakoya started the support group three years ago with two former coworkers who also serve as caregivers. They meet once a month at the Bellevue/Lockridge Library in Southwest to discuss the needs of family caregivers.
“The first step to caring for a loved one is caring for yourself,” Onakoya said.
During their monthly meetings, they remind each other about the importance of self-care for caregivers as well as assisting one another in finding much needed services.
Onakoya, retired, serves as the primary caregiver for her aunt, Carrie Brown, 98. She also assists her sister, Maxine Abayomic, 66, who suffers from a form of Lupus.
Brown, who, moved to D.C. from North Carolina, obtained a high school degree and worked as a mental health activist in D.C. General’s mental health unit, now needs help with everyday activities.
For the past two years, Onakoya has spent about 20 hours a week assisting Brown, cooking, cleaning, dog walking and driving to doctor’s appointments.
Recent data released by the AARP estimates that 60 percent of family caregivers also work other jobs. They say the total estimated economic value of uncompensated care provided by the nation’s 40 million family caregivers surpassed total Medicare spending ($449 billion) in 2013 at a whopping $470 billion.
“We don’t always have the opportunity to share our experiences,” Onakoya said. “This is an important topic and the group gives up a voice.”